I fought the public service and the public service won
It is one of life’s rich curiosities that the primary function of any government department is to make its citizenry despise it. This is most pronounced at the national passport office, where prior to confirming you are a citizen of Australia the bureaucratic apparatus feels it must first provide you with a host of reasons why you would not want to be.
Australian passports last for 10 years, because that is how long it takes the Department of Foreign Affairs to process a new one. But recently there have been some great breakthroughs in this area.
Now it only takes them two weeks to renew your passport - still slow by real world standards but the blink of an eye in the public service.
Yet even this lightning-fast turnaround time is not a personal best: If you pay an extra $100 fee you can get your passport processed in just two days. This is promoted as a “priority” service but the real message is a far greater truth: namely that the government is more than capable of renewing a passport in 48 hours but simply chooses not to.
In other words the bureaucracy deliberately withholds its labour in order to extort what is effectively a $100 bribe to grease the wheels. This is the sort of institutionalised corruption that would make a Colombian blush but at the Australian passport office it’s just another day at the office, albeit a day that ends at 4pm.
As it turned out I was one of those people who did need to get their passport in two days in order to get a visa for a work trip. To ensure the fastest possible turnaround time I thought I would bypass Australia Post and go straight to the passport office. Otherwise Australia Post would have had to post my application to the passport office and it is another of life’s rich curiosities that the one thing Australia Post is not particularly good at is posting.
I diligently filled out my renewal application form, got the photos taken to the prescribed specifications - specifications designed to make you look as much like a terrorist as possible - and trotted to the passport office.
As everyone should by now be aware the Department of Foreign Affairs’ passport office is not the same place as the Department of Foreign Affairs’ State Office. Indeed, the most prominent feature of the State Office’s website is a giant notice telling people that they cannot lodge their passport application at the State Office. This raises two questions:
1) If so many people were showing up to the State Office trying to lodge their applications, why did it not occur to the Department of Foreign Affairs to provide that facility there? and
2) What does the State Office actually do?
At any rate, I was one of the sensible ones who proceeded to the passport office as directed at around 1pm and found myself at the end of a long single queue in front of two windowed counters.
One reason the queue was so long was that passport seekers had, quite reasonably, visited the passport office on their lunch break. Another reason was that one counter attendants had apparently decided that they too would take a lunch break, thus reducing productivity by 50 per cent.
Nonetheless, a brisk half hour later I arrived at the counter and handed over form, only to be told that I needed to make an appointment - a message that was helpfully accompanied by a stern tap of a pencil on the corner of the form that said “Appointments are essential”.
I was then given a six-digit receipt number and told to come back in an hour, at which time I entered the six-digit receipt number into a computer that then printed out another number and instructed me to wait for it to be called.
This was a more exciting process than it sounds, as I soon discovered the numbers were not called in the linear fashion of the traditional Arabic numeral system, but rather beamed on to the screen by what could only be a random number generator.
This made waiting for an appointment quite similar to playing bingo, and was undoubtedly the highlight of the day (although not for a father who committed the impardonable sin of taking his young daughter to the toilet when his number came up and was publicly rebuked in the middle of the room by a female bureaucrat who looked like Nurse Ratched).
Finally my number was called and - after being scolded myself for letting my signature go over the lines - I was at last able to hand in my form. Suddenly the $326 fee seemed like a small price for my freedom and I handed over my bank card gladly.
“Oh no,” the woman shook her head at my naivety. “You’ll have to make another appointment for that.”
For something really worth waiting for follow me on Twitter here: @Joe_Hildebrand
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
Australia. Where you die for your country and get a rest area named after you http://t.co/hO6LpfwDvI
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…